They didn’t say her name here.
She doubted they knew it. She was nothing but a number with unique powers, powers every man craved.
Oddly, she liked it that way. Their focus on her powers allowed her to stow away her name, keep it to herself, repeating it over and over again. If they didn’t know her name – if nobody knew her name – it was hers. She could repeat it in her head forever. They couldn’t take that away from her.
Mahana’s hand itched for a knife. What caused people to kill? She’d nursed that question since the members of the Forbidden Current filled her parents with bullets. Looking for a distraction, she found solace in the one thing bright about the room: the floor.
Her hunger erupted into a rampage at the sight of the floor, red from blood and paint. Drool escaped from her lips as she imagined a juicy cut of meat hanging off the bone, slathered in her mother’s curry.
She was hungry – no – she was starving. She would tear a person apart if it meant she could get the smell and taste and sight of it out of her mind.
That’s why people kill. Because they’re starving for something.
To keep herself from charging the guard leaning against the doorway, she directed her attention away from her thoughts and on her habitat. The room overflowed with scraggly girls, their nightgowns slipping off their shoulders. Torn bits of stuffing were sprinkled on the floor like cotton candy. Since these girls wetted their beds at night or jolt awake due to night terrors, the room reeked of piss and insomnia.
Mahana hadn’t slept well for weeks. Before, if someone had told her the dead needed sleep and beds and food, she’d have laughed and scorned them, but now, it seemed the dead needed more than the living.
Though her first life ended three years ago, Mahana was as alive as before. She still craved the hold of her mother, the laugh of her father, the taste of meat and sugar.
The black mist seeping from underneath the door jolted her from her thoughts. The girls stopped breathing as it materialized into a wispy figure, a cloak over its head. The creature passed the guard and lifted its gnarly face into the light. Gasps echoed across the room.
Round, bulbous eyes surrounded by sagging paper-white skin. It pursed its nonexistent lips and darkened, disappearing within the black folds of its cloak. A skeleton hid under the draping black ropes and long, skinless fingernails pointed towards her.
Her lungs clenched as her worst assumptions came true. If her calculations were correct, it was the fifth day of the week and six hours since she woke.
Maybe I’d gotten the days wrong. Maybe it’s not the Extraction day.
It drifted towards her, quiet save the flap of its cloak behind it. Rafta gripped her bedframe, not willing to say goodbye to it.
Whenever the creature passed through the room, the girl it took never came back.
Rather than lifting her, the wind raised her off her sheets and carried her to it. Mahana couldn’t speak, too in shock of the events. When she landed in its bony arms, her confidence resurged.
“Let go of me!” Mahana thrashed as his grip tightened. “I said let go! Do you not feel shame? Do you not see the scars on my arms from your machine? Do you enjoy watching a machine suck out the Soul Energy of a teenager? Of children? Do you!”
The guard shuffled back as they neared the door. Mahana grew more desperate, screaming and spitting to stop it, but her breath stilled when door burst open in its presence.
The cool touch of the creature calmed Mahana’s racing heart. She peered into its cloak, inhaling deep breaths.
“Do not fear, child.” Its voice was hollow and airy. For some reason, she believed it.
Candles hung from hooks, encased in rusty pots with wax bubbling at the bottom. Each flicker of light revealed an assortment of child-like drawings and handwriting etched on the walls. Mahana paused her tantrum to look, mouthing the words inscribed.
The door at the end of the hall creaked open. The creature floated towards it, soothing her nerves with its aura. Mahana felt more able to sleep in its arms than her bed.
As if she were porcelain, the creature set her on the couch and ran its wispy limb over her arm. Then, it dissolved into mist and drifted out the room.
The room was more elaborate than the others. Large and expansive. It promised luxury. Steps away from where she quivered, a winding staircase traveled up to a balcony which harbored three human-sized tube-like structures. A couch surrounded a centerpiece table topped with a bouquet of flowers. Behind it, a deep velvet curtain hung from the ceiling. Her fingers craved to peer beyond it, but fear overwhelmed that desire.
She clutched her nightgown. When the creature left, so did her peace. Franic thoughts raced in her mind.
They’re going to kill me. They’d hook me up to that machine, tear a whole into my skin and attach my Soul Energy to wires until I die and sell my Energy to the highest bidder.
“Appa…” A tear slipped down her check. Perhaps, this would be freedom.
She swore her dad screamed out her name when she called for him, but the guards and scientists said it was a side effect of the Extraction procedure—hysteria.
It sounded like gumdrops and milkshakes, sweet and smooth. Her name rolled off her father’s tongue like a lullaby, a silent promise that he’d find her. Rafta held onto that last tether of her family with vigor and leaned into the caress of her memories.
You are a witch, Rafta. You’ve been blessed with a powerful, but dangerous gift. Awful people will come after your spirit, but you must not surrender to them. You mustn’t give up.
She was a child when her father uttered those words, but until now, she hadn’t understood their truth. Every man itched to grab ahold of her powers, willing to do anything to get them.
And this death wasn’t freedom. They’d sell her soul and trap her within the drug trade.
Her breath stopped as she realized the quiet hum of the room. No guards.
Her mind creaked into motion. She remembered a handful of spells from her past life: levitation, mild wound healing, transfiguration, and light wielding. Rafta mustered her strength and struggled to access her scarce supply of Soul Energy.
Her palm lit up, pushing the darkness of the room away.
The light flashed over a door, black and metal. Rafta’s heart leaped out of her chest. She scooted towards it, her long fingernails leaving scratches on the floor. A warm tear slid down her jaw and the corners of her lips stretched into a smile.
Only a little bit more-
“Where do you think you’re going, girl?”
An icy hand clamped around the back of her neck. He lifted her off the ground like a chicken ready for butchering, a deep chuckle rumbling from his chest as she resisted.
“Feisty girl, that’s what I liked about you.” he hissed. The man threw her down, the crack of her bones echoing in her ears.
She tearily looked up to a set of amber eyes, flecks of green swimming in his irises. Wrinkles lined his eyes and lips. His cracked fingers held two things: a wand and a key.
He dangled the key in front of her. “This is the key to your freedom,” he said, his eyes flitting to the door. He brought the wand to her eye level.
“And this is the key to everything you’ll ever want.”
She looked at the purple wand, her skin itching to touch it. It shined with glitter and dust; a small wisp of magic looped around it.
He tapped her throat with it and whispered something under his breath. She reached up to her neck in alarm. It felt like a fire crawled to her mouth, burning with all the words she dreamt of saying.
A chill went over her body when he moved the wand away. She had the urge to say everything and nothing at the same time, overwhelmed with the sensations flooding into her chest. It sung with a resurgence of Energy.
“What—what just happened?”
“I’ve replenished your Soul Energy,” he crooned, waving the wand in between his fingertips. “And you will get much more when I give you this.”
“Power. Wealth. Luxury. Everything you’ll ever want.”
The motion of the wand was fascinating, ticking back and forth like a metronome. Her hand reached up. The power rippled off it and crooned to her.
“No…” she drawled. “I’ll never work under men like you. I won’t let you manipulate me.”
His finger felt cold when he touched her chin. He clicked his tongue on the roof of his mouth, a chiding father. “There are two things you can be here. Naïve and used like a worm, or cruel and thriving like a bird. Everyone wants to be a bird, but they don’t get the chance. I’m giving it to you, dear.” His lips brushed against her ear, the warmth raising the tiny hairs near that area. “Will you give up?”
Her breath hitched, entranced by the lull of his words, so similar to her fathers. “No…no, I won’t.” Her eyes followed the wand.
During her last life, they’d never told her of this place, perhaps ignorant for fearful. But she knew one thing. Once in the Forbidden Current, no one would save her. Not the Spirit Realmers, who lived their second lives with the promise of Heaven, or the Dark Realmers, who spent their second lives reveling in their past mistakes. Not even the Earth Realmers, who she’d been before she died.
No one would help her but herself.
“I want to be free. I want to thrive.”
He smiled. “For now, you shall train and nurture your powers. If you be good, you might ascend to the highest rank.”
Her curiosity was piqued. “What…is it?”
“You must be obedient before you get there. Will you be?”
She nodded. The old man cracked a smile.
“Take your destiny, Rafta,” he cooed. She blinked at the name he’d called her, sweet and gentle like her father. Rafta. “Be born again.”
He not only promised her freedom, but everything she’d ever wanted.
Though she was hesitant, the offer enticed her. How could she resist?
Her fingers curled around the wand. It fit in her grasp as if they’d made it for her. She squeezed her eyes shut as Soul Energy powered through her veins, awakening the suppressed Spellcaster inside.
“Welcome to the Forbidden Current, Rafta.”